Informed by the need to guide farmers on proper seed choice, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) in partnership with the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) have developed an online application, MbeguChoice, which already boasts a database of over 200 commercialized crop varieties, including 61 varieties of maize, 25 of common bean, 11 of cassava, 13 of Irish potato, and 12 of sorghum.

Launched early June this year, the application, which can be accessed through www.mbeguchoice.com,   the platform is available in both English and Swahili and guides users on seed selection depending on their ecological zone.

According to James Ireri, an extensional officer at KALRO, they developed the application after discovering that three out of five farmers plant unsuitable crop varieties in their farms, sometimes going for varieties that are highly-susceptible to diseases and/or harsh climatic conditions, hence poor yields.

Ireri said that a good food production system starts with high-yielding crop varieties developed for specific farming environments whose good characteristics of being disease and drought resistant as well as early maturity will help farmers make informed choices.

“We also have a plan to introduce a free SMS version of the platform in order to reach more farmers,” said Ireri. A recent survey by ITweb shows that 30.5m Kenyans own mobile phones, representing 77.3 per cent of the country’s population. Currently, the tool is benefiting less than one eighth of small holder farmers, the rest not having access to internet.

Globally, a number of companies have tried selling seed selection applications to great reception. Monsanto, certainly one of the World’s biggest and most controversial seed and chemical producer, runs an application, Fieldscripts, which is designed to help inform planting decisions, by guiding corn farmers on the best seed options for their farms.

Together with other applications under the company’s Integrated Farming Systems, Fieldscripts’ success has been riding on an impressive farmer-support structure.   

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MbeguChoice hopes to be as attractive as Fieldscripts by ensuring farmers get quality service. Before independent companies are allowed to post their products on the database, a vigorous check is done by KEPHIS to ensure that farmers are safeguarded from unscrupulous seed vendors, who mislead them into purchasing poor quality seeds that normally lead to poor yields. Farmers can also know the price of the seeds and where to buy them.

This tool offers great relief especially to small scale maize farmers who continue to register low outputs despite spending a lot of money, if a 2012 study by KALRO, the former Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), is anything to go by. The study indicated that most small scale maize farmers in Kenya only get a third returns from their farming activities, signaling 70 per cent loss yet they accounts for almost 75 per cent of total maize produced in the country. The research cited poor seed knowledge amongst farmers as a major drawback to production.

It for instance showed that about 85 per cent of maize farmers in Western Kenya plant local varieties with about 80 per cent using own farm-saved seeds, which are often of poor quality.

The research gave an example where most farmers in Kitale, a highland that requires high altitude varieties of maize seeds like ADC 600-23A by the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) usually end up planting seed stock number WH507, which is meant for medium altitude areas like Machakos. The slow yielding maize breed, suitable for altitude of between 1200-1600m and relative rainfall of 800mm per annum, if subjected to a high altitude of 1700-2300m and high rainfall of up to 1500mm per annum ends up rotting and suffering a host of climatic diseases.

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